The female gaze: A feminist theory term representing the gaze of the female spectator, character or director of an artistic work. The female gaze is not about banning sex, desire and fantasies, but about showing that these can exist without objectification.
Meet Libby Cooper, 19-year-old nude photographer and creator of the Born To Be Nude project- a series dedicated to creating a safe space to celebrate nudity without being sexualised. Libby’s art aims to change the narrative surrounding nudity, creating a raw and realistic portrayal of the human body.
As well as taking inspiration from renaissance imagery, Libby strives to reclaim it with a female gaze and works mostly within nature, partly because of its unpredictability- the natural lighting and the adventure of finding locations are some of the many joys in her process.
“Before I was a nude photographer, I was a music photographer capturing gigs and festivals, and then all of a sudden we were in a lockdown. There were no festivals or gigs to photograph and I felt so low and creatively unfulfilled. No matter what I tried to create at home nothing was the same as going out and working with other people. So I decided to start planning a project as soon as I could get out of lockdown and work with people again, thus came my project Born To Be Nude. I knew I really wanted to create something unusual and completely different to the work I had previously made. The first nude shoot I did was in Morden Hall park, with an incredible woman named Dami. After that shoot I never looked back at music photography- the passion I felt for the work I had just created was unlike any I had felt before.
“A big part of photographing models nude is having an understanding that being naked on camera is one of the most vulnerable states you can be in, so it’s important to treat it as such. I often leave my shoots having made a new friend, which is something I absolutely love about my job.
“I mostly find my subjects by sharing a call out for something quite random like “looking for a model, happy to photograph nude with snails”, or “I am also looking for someone with pet snails” and people will message you from there! If people have a particular idea in mind and they want my help capturing it, there’s also the option to book a shoot via my website.
“Finding a suitable location is one of the hardest things about the series- it needs to be quiet and secluded and yet also have gorgeous scenery! Often we will go really early in the morning or visit a quieter place in general. The earliest I have gotten up for a nude shoot so far is 4am (a nude shoot in Lewes on a walking path). I have had dog walkers walk through in a few shoots, but people don’t seem to care. Either they’re curious and want to know what you’re making, or are so British that they pretend they haven’t seen anything!
“I’ve had such a mixture of feedback from the Born To Be Nude project, but definitely more positive! I was not expecting this project to grow into what it has, and I still can’t believe it. I get such incredibly kind messages and opportunities, just like this one! I also get the odd message from an incel or two, which I have learnt to laugh at!
“My friend Ciara was the first person to point out that my photographs present nudity without sexualising it. It blew my mind- that something I had created had resonated with someone beyond what I saw as myself. From there I’ve found more meaning in my work, and I feel as though I grew as a photographer. For me, a lot of this comes down to my intentions. Because of how I conduct the shoots, the intent actualises itself, as I’m photographing the model through the viewpoint of celebrating all different types of bodies! I want the models to see themselves presented in a comfortable, natural, and serene context, and from a perspective they might not usually see.
“I am heavily inspired by renaissance imagery, however I aim to reclaim it through a female gaze. I am also heavily inspired by nature, which I think resonates in my work.
“Covid impacted my work in the best way imaginable, I found my style, and the work I truly love to create. Whilst it was one of the hardest and unhappiest periods of my life, I will always be grateful that it gave me a moment to stop and realise that I didn’t love music photography.
“The most annoying part of being a nude photographer is the online censorship- it’s extremely unfair. I actually recently lost my account due to ‘violating community guidelines’, even though I always make sure to censor correctly, as I want my work to be shared!
I feel as though there should either be no censorship, or everyone has to follow this censorship, not just women.”